How do I know where I am?

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starbucks-vienna

I am sitting in a Starbucks in the Vienna Airport. I am on a the trip I was supposed to take over a year and a half ago— a consulting visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia to work with real estate professional associations—helping them get organized and build capacity as they grow. Our reason for doing this: once organized, professionals can impact the emerging infrastructure—the legislation, taxation, and business climate of their country. But more on that later.

When I visit a foreign country, one of my favorite mental games to play is, “How do I know I am not in the US?” So, I am sitting in this Vienna, Austria, airport Starbucks, eating a scone and drinking a latte. How do I know I am not in the US? Here are my clues:

  1. Men in suits. Black suits. With ties (tied) and white shirts. There are several clusters orf them scattered throughout this large, airy coffee lounge. They are discussion serious things, it looks like.

  2. Tiny espresso coffee cups. That’s the favorite drink here: with my grande latte I am out of place: most people seem to be drinking small sips of very strong coffee—with sugar and cream, it’s a dessert in itself.

  3. A big, (ugly) organic modern art fountain that separates the coffee lounge area from the main airport walkway.

  4. Lots of yellow airport shopping bags. Both the Amersterdam and Vienna airports have some lovely shops. Taking advantage of a few minutes to buy a designer bag or some perfume or electronics seems to be the order of the day. And when you leave the airport, as you enter the jet bridge there is always a trolley cart filled with items purchased in the duty-free shops, the items you purchased in the shops and can only regain once you technically leave the country.

  5. And there’s a huge melting pot of languages….three or four different languages are being spoken at one table, and no one seems to notice that much of the conversation is supplemented by hand gestures and drawing on paper napkins. Drinking coffee with someone who speaks another language is not a cause for concern—everyone can share pleasantries in a second language (often English).

I’ve been smart this trip: I have asked for wheelchair assistance. Amsterdam and Viena are huge, sprawling airports, mostly without moving sidewalks and escalators. A month or so ago I was in the Chicago O’Hare Airport and I hadn’t asked for help—I thought the gates were only a little distance apart. Well, they WERE, when I started. But the gates were changed and I found myself limping between terminals, and also faced with the frustrating proposition that Ohare doesn’t want you to know where you’re going. If you’re in the United section of the airport, you have to go two terminals over to find out at what gate the American flight you need is located. But in Amersterdam, for instance, there are mega information boards and kiosks throughout the terminal, and they list every flight, no matter what airline.

In both Amsterdam and Vienna airports, wheelchair pushers and cart drivers have been outstandingly polite and prompt: they’ve checked me through special security gates, taken my passport to the ticket agent, and refused the tips that I offered.

So the travel isn’t bad: quite pleasant, actually, now that Starbucks has quite playing the awful Christmas carols that were on the speaker system for a long time. But then there are decorations everywhere, and have been for several weeks, they tell me. It’s only the 15th of November but the Christmas merchandise is prominently displayed so you can do a little shopping while you’re waiting for your plane.

Guess some things are the same wherever you go.

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One thought on “How do I know where I am?

  1. The fountain looks like a leftover from some giant transplant operation gone wrong!

    You know you are NOT in the US when you can get a wheelchair or a cart, have some kind individual push it to your destination and not hold out a hand for a tip

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